Classic Pizza Styles
Although pizza toppings can range from pickled cabbage in Asia to crab and crème fraiche in California, there are some commonly accepted pizza styles with regional variations. Some of these include Neapolitan, Sicilian, Chicago style, and California style.
Many pizzas are variations on the original pie of Naples — a flat, hearth-baked, chewy crust topped with tomatoes or tomato sauce and mild cheese. A few of the most common variations are New York-style pizza, which is bigger and flatter than the original pizza of Napoli, designed to be cut into large, flexible wedges that can be folded and eaten while walking or working.
New Haven-style pizza often refers to white pizza with clams. Philadelphia pizzas can be classic Neapolitan or a variation with slightly sweet canned peppers and onions as a topping. There's also the eastern Pennsylvania “tomato pie,” which is square; it's topped with thick tomato sauce and eaten cold.
Long Island, New York claims to be the home of the “pizza bagel,” an individual-size pizza that substitutes a bagel half for the pizza crust. Beyond that, the toppings can include any of the usual meats, veggies, and cheeses.
True Sicilian pizza is a rectangular slab of bread with toppings — which typically do not include cheese — pushed into the dough before baking. The American version is radically different, usually with a thick layer of cheese encasing all the toppings.
Sicilian pizza can be found in major metro areas with large Italian-American populations, and homogenized versions occasionally turn up on the menu of pizza chain restaurants. Scranton-style pizza, served at pubs and bakeries in Northeastern Pennsylvania, is a thick, pillowy rectangular crust with a crisp bottom, topped with thick tomato sauce and a thin layer of grated hard cheeses. One can argue that pizza variations like French-bread crust pizza and focaccia pizza pay homage to the original Sicilian pizzas.
Around the world, Chicago-style pizza usually refers to the deep-dish, multi-layered pizzas first created by Ike Sewell in the mid-twentieth century. That pie, almost a casserole, offers a unique pizza experience. It has also spawned some lesser pizzas, generally called pan pizzas. Pan pizzas are round with a thick, well-oiled crust — somewhat similar to a Sicilian crust — with an indentation to hold more toppings.
There is also a Chicago-style thin crust pizza. The crust tends to be flat and crisp, topped with a sweet, oregano-heavy tomato sauce and plenty of meats and cheese. Although it's a round pie, this Chicago-style pizza is cut into squares, not wedges, making it easy to munch without the toppings sliding off. St. Louis-style pizza is similar to Chicago thin crust, with the addition of Provel cheese — a processed cheese flavored with Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses.
Chicago is known for its meat industry and love of thick steaks and chops. But the most popular topping for Chicago-style pizza? Spinach and lots of cheese. It seems Midwesterners love their veggie pies.
Although San Franciscans have long adored their hearty sourdough-crust pizzas topped with the freshest ingredients, those Neapolitan-style pies aren't what most of the world knows as “California style.”
Instead California-style pizza is characterized by a plate-sized, very thin crust and a range of unusual toppings. Barbecue, pineapple, Thai shrimp, curry chicken, fiddlehead ferns, roast duck, and all manner of herbs and cheeses turn up on California-style pizzas. Some gourmet pizza devotees assume Californians invented the grilled pizza, but that distinction actually goes to chefs in Rhode Island.